Parents of teen who took own life tell of gang's blackmail bid
A schoolboy who took his own life after being duped into sending intimate photos online was subject to a "relentless" blackmail bid by a Nigerian gang, his parents have said.
Gerard and Teresa Hughes said their 17-year-old son Ronan killed himself only hours after learning that the faceless criminals had followed through with a threat to send the images to one of his Facebook friends unless he paid them £3,300 (€4,590).
The heartbroken couple, from Clonoe, Co Tyrone, have also criticised the police response when they reported the blackmail plot three days before Ronan's death earlier this month.
They said their "quiet, happy-go-lucky" child had been tricked into sending images on a social network site after receiving pictures of a girl.
Mrs Hughes said Ronan, a pupil at St Joseph's Grammar School in Donaghmore, confided to her three days before he died.
"He came to me and said, 'I'm in trouble here'," she said in an interview with the Irish News.
"They were looking for more than £3,000 for an image he had posted and told him they were going to show it to all his friends. They had sent him a list of all his Facebook friends. He texted them back to say, 'But I'm only 17'."
Mr Hughes immediately took his son to a police station at Dungannon, but there was only one officer on duty who said there was not a lot he could do.
"I knew Ronan was looking for help and I told him [the officer] that all my son wanted was for these images not to be posted," he said.
"He told us that he couldn't guarantee that. If the police had given him reassurance and said, 'We'll contact IT experts, we'll close this down, we'll stop that', Ronan would still be here today."
The couple took their son back to the police the next day and spent a number of hours with officers, but said they did not hear anything back over the next couple of days.
On the day of his death, Mrs Hughes said Ronan called her to say a friend had contacted him to say she had received a link containing images, but she had not opened them.
Mr Hughes left work early to go home amid concerns how his son might react. When he arrived he found notes on the kitchen table and then discovered his son's body in a field behind their home.
"The biggest point we want to get across is how naive parents are in relation to social media," he said.
"There's no point in a parent taking a phone off a child when they don't know what they are doing themselves or how to access the technology themselves."
Mrs Hughes said she and her husband felt it was important to speak out.
"We decided to speak out as this is something that could have been prevented," she said.
"To think that Ronan was living life to the full and then all of a sudden something like this can pop up and take his life . . . that's why we had to act.
"We want there to be changes so if a child is being bullied online they can go to the police with their concerns. We don't want another family to go through what we've gone through."
The PSNI said it hoped to meet the Hughes family to discuss their concerns about its handling of the case.
Det Chief Supt Brian Hanna said: "This is a tragic case and our sympathies go to Ronan's family. We all deserve to be able to use the internet to learn, explore and connect with each other, but all of us need to be aware of the risks involved in doing so."
He urged people to check www.getsafeonline.org for advice and information on how to stay safe online.
Facebook said it did not comment on individual cases.